My office is actually a small apartment on the first floor of a house. Our landlord lives downstairs with his family. Since most of our space is open – with large balconies and the terrace – we can hear most of the domestic affairs on the ground floor. Often, we find ourselves smiling when we hear aunty baby-talking to Tiger, their pet dog and shouting insults to her son in the same breath. We can hear uncle cursing salespeople when they knock on the door, interrupting an impromptu siesta. Sometimes, we even catch snatches of the son’s conversations with his girlfriend.
When I leave in the evening, uncle’s usually walking around the garden, waving his arms while doing some deep breathing exercises. We always exchange a smile, and sometimes, when he’s in the mood, he indulges me in small talk. Normally, it’s about how far I have to travel to get to work, traffic problems, the work we do and temperamental weather.
Last evening, though, he was arguing with his son. I dropped my gaze and focused on the paving as I made my way towards the gate where they stood.
‘See this girl,’ uncle said suddenly as I was on my way out, ‘She’s coming from so far everyday just to do something she enjoys. Ask her how much she gets paid. You’ll start laughing.’
I did my uncomfortable half-smile at the son. He half-smiled back and twirled his finger near his ear, indicating his father’s lunacy.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt…’
‘No ma,’ uncle said, ‘You tell him no? Tell him your work and what you’ve studied and what you’ll do in future. You told me that day, no? Tell him. Let him know.’
The son was growing visibly impatient.
‘Uh, uncle, I think it’s better if I just…’
‘What?’ the son burst out, ‘What the hell do you want me to do? Leave my job and do some stupid course where I’ll just be wasting my time and your money? What’s your problem, huh? I’m not asking for any money from you. I pay for myself when I go out with my friends. I bought my own cellphone, my own car, my music system…what’s your point, huh? Stop this drama, okay? Leave me alone. I don’t care what you want.’
Uncle didn’t seem alarmed by this sudden yelling.
‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong,' he said, 'I’ve been asking him to leave his call centre work so he can get some qualifications and a better job…’
‘What better job?' his son interrupted, louder this time, 'You’ve done your degrees and engineering and all that bull and I’m earning more than you are. What’s wrong with you? You’re so stupid, man,’ he shouted one last time before he slammed the gate behind him.
I was at a loss for words. I looked at uncle and he ventured an apologetic, ‘Kids today, no...,’ before he turned around and walked back inside.
I'd like to clarify that I’m not being self-righteous at this point, but I’ve often wondered what it is that my generation stands for.
If spending an easy thousand bucks in a few hours at a nightclub is an achievement, if impressing your peers with a fancier phone every month is important, if increased purchasing power is viewed as the right to disrespect the people who love you, if money is the only thing that drives the young and upwardly mobile today…
it’s bloody pathetic.